When the York Theatre opened at 812 Yonge Street, a few doors north of Bloor Street, it was considered an exceptionally fine theatre. Unfortunately, it was unable to sustain this status after Loew’s Uptown Theatre opened in 1920, a short distance south of Bloor Street. To compete, in the years ahead, the York offered double-bill shows, although the films were not recent releases. My recollections of the theatre are from the 1950s, when it had become rather shabby.
During the summer of 1955, I worked at the Imperial Bank at Bloor and Yonge Streets, not far from the York Theatre. This was prior to the bank amalgamating with the Bank of Commerce to create the CIBC. My responsibility was to balance the bank’s Cash Book each day. I must admit that I had a terrible time and spent many an evening working late trying to balance the ledgers. This was a decade without computers or calculators, although the bank did have hand-cranked adding machines. This now sounds like a description of work equipment during the Mediaeval period of history. The bank was demolished many years ago, along with the York Theatre. However, because of my summer job, I can clearly picture the York Theatre in my mind.
I also recall that the Pilot Tavern was near the York Theatre, as it was next door to the bank, on its south side. The smell of the grease from the tavern’s kitchen invariably wafted into the bank. The Pilot was established in 1944, its name honouring the brave pilots that served in the Second World War. The tavern became a hangout for artists and musicians in the 1940s and early-1950s. It later relocated to 22 Cumberland Street in Yorkville, and remains there today (2014).
Plans for the York Theatre were submitted to the city in 1914. It contained almost 800 seats, covered with leatherette. There was a stage for vaudeville performances and an orchestra pit, but no balcony. A section at the rear of the auditorium was roped-off, and the seats contained arm rests. It is assumed that this area was reserved for smokers. In 1937, the theatre was renovated and a balcony was added, which contained 120 seats. In 1948, a refreshment bar was included, and in 1957 the seats were all redone by the Canadian Seating Company. At one time, the theatre was managed by the B&F chain.
I was unable to discover the year the theatre closed, but it was likely in the mid-1960s.
The view gazes north on Yonge Street from the intersection at Bloor. The canopy of the York Theatre is visible on the left-hand (west) side of Yonge. Judging by the shadows, the photo was taken early in the morning, which accounts for the street being relatively devoid of traffic. The building on the corner (northwest) of Yonge, which has an awning, is a branch of the Bank of Commerce. City of Toronto Archives, SC 303A- file 33
The York Theatre, with its canopy advertising “continuous daily” screenings. Most of the shops surrounding the theatre have disappeared, as has the theatre itself. However, in the photo, on the far right-hand side, the tall Masonic Temple at Bloor and Davenport Road can be seen. This structure remains today and it’s one of the city’s heritage buildings. City of Toronto Archives SC 303A-33.
The York Theatre at 812 Yonge Street. The tall building with the Doric pillars (second from the left) is the Imperial Bank where I worked one summer.
This winter scene gazes north on Yonge Street from Bloor Street in 1954. The marquee of the York Theatre is visible on the street at the front of the south-bound Yonge streetcar. I believe that the streetcar is actually a trailer car, pulled by a streetcar in front of it, which is not visible in the photo. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, Harvey N. Naylor.
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Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.
To place an order for this book:
Theatres Included in the Book:
Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto
Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), thePhotodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)
Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons
Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown
Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s
Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede
Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression
Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro
Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years
University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema
Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres
Savoy (Coronet), Westwood
Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes
Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)